A process of healing: Woman creates extensive MMIWG database
Annita Lecchesi says she has logged over 3,000 cases, some reaching as far back as 1900
What started as a basic search for numbers on missing and murdered Indigenous women has changed the path of one woman's life.
Annita Lecchesi is a PhD candidate in the University of Lethbridge's Cultural, Social and Political Thought program. Three years ago, she was looking for information on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and the U.S. for a mapping project. But she had trouble finding complete and accurate data.
Since then, she has compiled information from missing persons websites, police records, historical archives, news articles, social media and even spoken with family members who have lost loved ones, to create an online database.
Lecchesi said she has currently logged over 3,000 cases, some reaching as far back as 1900. The database also includes information that may be missing from other sources that family and community members have shared with Lecchesi, like birth dates and if the women had children.
I would want my story to have meaning. I would want my story to be part of the movement to make sure that it doesn't happen to other women and girls.- Annita Lucchesi
"This has also been kind of a process of healing for communities to be able to have a full sense of how this violence has impacted us and to create a space for families to come forward and share their stories," she said.
Lucchesi said she hopes her work will help grieving families heal and give peace to spirits.
For her, the work is also personal. She's a Southern Cheyenne descendant and a survivor of domestic violence, and she feels she too could have been among the women listed in the database.
"I like to think that if that did happen to me, I would want my story to have meaning. I would want my story to be part of the movement to make sure that it doesn't happen to other women and girls," she said.
Lucchesi said she has also been involved in discussions about legislation, largely in the U.S., and hopes increased awareness about violence against Indigenous women and girls will lead to policy changes.
"That's really exciting to see that policy makers are starting to listen to us and want to make a difference," she said.
Lucchesi noted the work can be challenging, and said updating the database has been prayerful process.
"It means that it's done with intention and love and it's not something I do casually," she said.
"It's such an emotional process I usually set aside a whole day for it every couple weeks and so there's prayer for the women, prayer for their families, prayer for their communities that goes into that process."
While no one owns the information collected in the database, she said it does need to be cared for with love and respect. It is accessible only upon request, which sometimes involves consultation with elders and families.
Lucchesi said anyone interested in accessing the database should contact her through the website.
Other prominent work addressing the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls includes the national inquiry launched by the Canadian government in September 2016. It recently wrapped up a four-day hearing in Iqaluit, one of four final hearings.
According to the inquiry website 1,859 families and survivors registered since it began and 1,273 have shared their stories.
The inquiry expects to complete its research by Sept. 31 and submit its final report by April 30, 2019
In 2016, CBC News also launched Unresolved: Case Closed or Murder? which investigates unresolved cases that involved the death or disappearance of Indigenous women and girls. It now includes 306 cases, some of which have since been solved.
With files from Loren McGinnis and Rachel Zelniker